Canada's first volcanologist remembered 

Celebration of Life for Jack Souther planned for June 22 in North Vancouver

click to flip through (2) PHOTO SUBMITTED - JACK OF ALL TRADES  Jack Souther, one of Canada's foremost volcanologists, was also a beloved speaker, writer and volunteer in the resort community. He passed away June 1 at the age of 90. He's pictured above with his wife of 60 years, Betty.
  • Photo submitted
  • JACK OF ALL TRADES Jack Souther, one of Canada's foremost volcanologists, was also a beloved speaker, writer and volunteer in the resort community. He passed away June 1 at the age of 90. He's pictured above with his wife of 60 years, Betty.
 
 

For a man who was known as a hardworking ranch hand, an expert woodworker, an avid skier and an accomplished writer and photographer, Dr. Jack Souther wanted to be remembered as one thing above all else.

"Well, he told the doctor he was first and foremost a scientist," said Betty Souther, Jack's wife of 60 years.

Jack passed away June 1 at the age of 90 after a long battle with cancer, and the nation's scientific community, as well as friends, family and colleagues, now mourn the loss of one of Canada's foremost geological and volcanological experts.

His wife and their three daughters — Janet, Barbara and Anne — survive him.

Jack's memory will loom large over Whistler, where he regularly spent weekends after building the family's log cabin with his own hands in the early '70s. Locals will also remember him as a two-season Mountain Host for many years, one of the first members of the Whistler Naturalists, as well as a regular speaker in the community on the geology and natural history of the Whistler area.

"I knew him through the Naturalists and I remember being surprised that a geologist knew so much about the natural world, and also that he could explain really complex concepts that made it interesting to people," recalled Bob Brett, founder of the Whistler Naturalists, who met Jack shortly after the organization was formed in the late '90s.

"He was one of those guys that could do anything and seemed to have unlimited energy to do it. I'm pretty sure he could have been anything he decided to be."

Born in Chicago at the height of the Roaring Twenties, Jack moved to rural Alabama as a young child. Then, Jack's mother remarried, and relocated the family to a cattle ranch outside of Morley, Alta., on the cusp of his teenage years.

"He was a cowboy," Betty recalled. "All that meant was, as a mature man, (he was) a Jack-of-all-trades. I never needed to ask for anything to be fixed by anybody else, Jack could always do it."

While his schooling was intermittent, Jack was an insatiable learner, often studying into the night by gas lamp. He eventually attended Banff High School after his family lost the ranch and moved to the mountain town. At the late age of 21, Jack graduated as the class president, and was accepted into the gruelling geological engineering program at the University of British Columbia (UBC), where he first met Betty.

Jack excelled to such a degree at UBC that he was offered a full scholarship to the prestigious Princeton University, and enrolled in the PhD program for geology.

After completing his degree, he became a member of the Geological Survey of Canada, and carved out a remarkable career as one of the country's leading authorities on volcanism, eventually earning a Barcroft Award for earth sciences.

Jack had a hand in mapping several remote volcanic areas of the Canadian Cordillera, and provided significant insight into the understanding of volcanism in the country. For his many contributions to the geologic field, Jack is perhaps best known for his extensive study of the Mount Edziza volcanic complex in northwestern B.C., an area that would become a provincial park primarily due to Jack's lobbying.

"At the time he was (surveying) Edziza, it was not a park, but he realized the beauty of the area ... and the complexities of the recent volcanic geology, and knew that this was an important area that warranted careful study," said noted local geologist and longtime friend Karl Ricker.

Jack spent several summers surveying Mount Edziza and its surroundings, eventually producing a map of the area, one that Ricker described as "about the best geological map that has ever been produced in British Columbia."

And even though he would often spend months at a time in some of the most isolated areas of the country, Betty said her husband always made time for those he loved most, teaching his daughters how to bike, taking the family on ski vacations, and even bringing them along on his field trips.

After the kids left the house, Betty would regularly accompany her husband, assisting him in his mapping of the Ilgachuz Range and other remote areas of B.C.

"I lived the life of a field assistant even though nobody ever paid me, but we had lots of memories," Betty said. "Actually, Jack and I had a chance to talk about this before he died: We had lots of memories that only he and I could share as we were the only people out there."

In his later years, Jack was an eager traveller, and regularly wrote travel pieces and a monthly nature column for Pique.

Founding publisher and former editor Bob Barnett remembers Jack fondly.

"Jack was so humble about his own achievements and would always ask if we might have any interest in a story idea he had," he wrote in an email. "He had a lot of great adventures — during his career and after his retirement — and of course they all made for good reading."

But for the people who loved him most, Jack was more than just a pillar of Canadian geology — he was a man of great moral fibre, a caring father and a devoted husband.

"I have a lot of very good memories because we did so much together, more literally than a lot of couples I know," Betty remembered.

"We lived in the wilderness and, truth be told, I would follow Jack anywhere."

A celebration of Jack's life is scheduled for June 22 in North Vancouver, at the Holiday Inn and Suites at 700 Old Lillooet Road, from 3 to 5 p.m.

Please reach bob@snowlineresearch.ca, or call 604-932-8900 if you plan on attending.

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